The episcopal history of Barcelona is extremely well-documented for such an ancient see. The diocese was originally a suffragan of the very ancient Archdiocese of Tarragona, in southern Catalonia. St. Paul mentioned in his Epistle to the Romans (15:24, 28) that he was on his way to Spain, and St. Jerome asserted that St. Paul founded the first Christian community in the city of Tarraco (the modern-day city of Tarragona, south of Barcelona).
At the time of the Apostles, Tarragona was the capital of the large Roman province of Tarraconensis, which encompassed all of northern, central, and eastern Spain, and Barcelona was a small city on the road to Gaul. Over time, Tarragona shrank in size and was supplanted by Barcelona both in size and importance. However it was only in 1964 the Diocese of Barcelona separated from Tarragona, and was made a Metropolitan Archdiocese by Pope Paul VI.
Church tradition in Barcelona says the arrival of Christianity goes back to Apostolic Times, specifically to Saint Aetherius, a disciple of St. James the Apostle, who supposedly brought Christianity to Barcelona in 37 A.D., although it is more likely he was born in 37 A.D. Tradition also says he was succeeded by Saint Theodosius, who ruled until 94 A.D. After a series of bishops whose names we know, but whose words and works are known to God alone, the next notable bishop was Saint Severus, who was born in Barcelona in the third century.
St. Severus served as bishop of Barcelona from about 290 to 304 A.D., when he was martyred by use of the cat-of-nine-tails under the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian. His shrine is located in a Baroque church not far from Barcelona’s Cathedral. However, there are also relics of him at the Monastery of Sant Cugat, just outside the city, where he had fled to escape the persecutions.
The first extant documentation of the diocese begins with Bishop Praetextatus, who is mentioned as being in attendance at the Church Council of Sardica (now the city of Sofia, capital of Bulgaria) in 347 A.D., which was called to address the Arian heresy. He was succeeded as bishop in 360 A.D. by Saint Pacian, a married priest, who is considered one of the Early Church Fathers. Some of his writings have been preserved. St. Pacian was one of those lauded by St. Jerome in his book, “De viris illustribus” written in 392 A.D., about a year after St. Pacian’s death, and dedicated to St. Pacian’s son Dexter.
Some other noteworthy bishops include Saint Nebridius, who ruled from 540 to 547 A.D., and whose three brothers were all saints and bishops in Catalonia. Saint Olegarius ruled from 1116 to 1137, and his shrine is located in Barcelona Cathedral. Despite the long list of bishops, 120 to date, there have not been many Bishops of Barcelona who managed to become canonized saints.
At present the cause of Bishop Manuel Irurita, who ruled the Diocese of Barcelona from 1930 to 1936, is being investigated for possible beatification. Bishop Irurita opposed some of the steps taken by the Leftist government in Barcelona, and was targeted for assassination at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. One of the militiamen who executed the Bishop said that, when the Bishop was brought before the firing squad, he stated, “I bless all of those who are in my presence, as I also bless the bullets that will occasion my death, since they will be the keys that will open the gates of heaven for me.”
Today the Archdiocese continues to struggle against creeping secularism which has decimated the Church in many quarters of the city. Recently Cardinal Sistach, the present Metropolitan Archbishop, had to issue the following press release on April 29, 2009. Although there is no question that Catholic practice has declined in Barcelona, it has not disappeared:
“THERE ARE 845 PLACES OF WORSHIP IN THE CITY OF BARCELONA
Clarification of the Archbishopric of Barcelona with relation to the memo made public by the Office for Religious Affairs, entitled “Catholicism recedes in Barcelona”.
In response to the memo made public by the Office of Religious Affairs of the Barcelona City Government, entitled “Catholicism recedes in Barcelona”, which states that in the city of Barcelona the only existing places of Catholic worship are 141 parishes, this Archbishopric wishes to clarify the following: in the city of Barcelona, there are not just parishes as mentioned in the said memo, but rather the total number of Catholic places of worship, just within the city limits itself, is 845. This figure includes 139 parishes, 121 non-parochial churches, 421 active religious communities with chapels, 23 Catholic cultural centers with chapels, and 141 primary and secondary schools with Catholic chapels.”
The arms of the Metropolitan Archdiocese feature a patriarchal or archdiocesan cross, a lozenge with the arms of Catalonia (four red stripes on a gold background), an x-shaped cross and a Greek Cross – the former for St. Eulalia, indicating the instrument of her martyrdom, and the latter for the Holy Cross, as Barcelona’s Cathedral is named for both.
The present archbishop is Lluís Cardinal Martínez Sistach. Cardinal Sistach was born in Barcelona in 1937, ordained a priest in 1961, and became Auxiliary Bishop of Barcelona in 1987. He later served as Bishop of the city of Alegciras in Andalusia, near Gibraltar, then of the city of Tortosa in southern Catalonia.
In 1997 he was appointed Archbishop of Tarragona, and in 2004 he was appointed Archbishop of Barcelona. He was created a Cardinal at the Consistory of 2007. Cardinal Sistach’s title is Cardinal of St. Sebastian at the Catacombs, and his titular church in Rome is the Basilica of St. Sebastian’s Outside the Walls, one of the original Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome. He is also a member of several departments of the Curia, including most recently being named by Pope Benedict XVI as a member of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.
Cardinal Sistach’s coat-of-arms is surmounted by his Cardinal’s hat, and features a patriarchal cross. In the upper left corner is an “X” cross with a palm branch, for St. Eulalia of Barcelona. In the upper right corner is a Tau cross, to reflect his former post as Archbishop of Tarragona. At the bottom we see the arms of Montserrat, showing the jagged mountain being hewn with a golden saw. Below this appears the pallium Cardinal Sistach received as a Metropolitan Archbishop. His motto is, “Charitas Christi urget nos”.
Arms of Lluís Cardinal Martínez Sistach,
Metropolitan Archbishop of Barcelona
Església del Sant Àngel Custodi de Barcelona
Function: Parish church; popular shrine
Address: Vilardell 50
In 1398 the redoubtable Catalan Saint Vincent Ferrer, Dominican theologian and fiery preacher, was arriving at the north gate of the fortified walls which surrounded the City of Barcelona. As he prepared to pass through the portal, he looked up and had a vision of an angel standing over the gate, holding a sword aloft in his right hand and carrying a crown in his left. “Angel of God, what are you doing here?” asked St. Vincent, in Catalan. “I am guarding Barcelona by order of The Most High,” replied the angel, also in Catalan.
This is a wonderful story, but unfortunately it is one which has been forgotten by many people in Barcelona. Now, it is rather something indeed for a city – which of course is not a human being and does not have an immortal soul – to have a guardian angel assigned to it personally by God Himself. So at the time this miracle occurred, it is no surprise that the tale of this vision captured the popular imagination in the city.
Devotion to the Holy Guardian Angel of Barcelona began immediately, and by 1466 a tiny but beautifully decorated chapel was erected inside the gateway itself. The gate was renamed as the “Portal de l’Àngel” or “Gate of the Angel”, as confirmed in an official edict from the city council. A stone statue of the Guardian Angel matching St. Vincent’s description of the vision was the centerpiece of the little shrine.
Every year on the Feast of the Guardian Angels, which happens to coincide with the beginning of pomegranate season, a fair was held atop the city walls in this location. Pomegranates were displayed and sold, indicating that it was now the appropriate time of year to eat them. It was the custom for expectant mothers to purchase a pomegranate – which was often featured in Christian iconography of the period, a fruit appearing in the hand of the Christ Child – and eat one. They would ask Barcelona’s Guardian Angel to protect their unborn child and help them have a safe delivery.
When the city walls were torn down in 1854, the image of Barcelona’s Guardian Angel was removed from its little chapel, and taken to the nearby church of Santa Anna for safekeeping. During this time, as was occurring all over the city because of the population explosion occurring in newly industrializing Barcelona, a new parish church was constructed in the Hostafranchs-Sants area in the western part of the city, at the foot of Montjuich, and named for the Holy Guardian Angel of Barcelona. The statue was moved from Santa Anna to its new home in 1857 as part of a grand religious procession, but not without protest. Many residents of the old city lamented the fact that the statue was being taken away from the site of the apparition, and were concerned that devotion to the miraculous apparition of the city’s Guardian Angel would decrease when it was no longer in its original location.
As one might expect, during the Civil War both the church and the statue of the Angel were burnt by the Leftists in one of their usual fits of anti-Catholicism. A replacement for the original statue was made, based more or less on extant photographs of the original. However popular sentiment is that the Angel was not very pleased about what happened, both with being moved from the site of the vision and also how the statue was treated, so although devotion to him has resumed it will never again be what it once was.
While the Gate of the Angel itself is no more, the street which replaced it (one of Barcelona’s most popular shopping streets) is still officially named “Avenue of the Gate of the Angel,” though usually shortened to simply “Portal de l’Àngel”, recalling the name of the gate itself. On the corner of this street and the Carrer Fontanella is the grand neo-Renaissance Bank of Spain, where the old gate used to stand. In a niche on the side of the bank, an observant eye will spot a more modern sculpture of the Guardian Angel of Barcelona. It was donated to the city by sculptor Ángel Ferrant Vázquez in 1948.
Unfortunately, I have not found any good photographs of the interior but here are some shots of the exterior:
This is an engraving of what the original chapel inside the city gate looked like in the 18th century:
+++++UPDATED MARCH 2012+++++
Here is the sculpture by Ferrant Vázquez which sits somewhat high up on the side of the Bank of Spain, where the original chapel used to be, which I photographed recently; you will have to look up and do a bit of hunting to be able to find it:
Església de Nostra Senyora de Perpetu Socors
Function: Parish church; chapel of religious community
Address: Balmes 98-100
The church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a beautiful 20th century structure, built in a traditional, Baroque basilica style. This type of architecture is not native to Barcelona, and one would more likely expect to see such a church in Rome or Vienna. However it is one example of several types of churches in this rather grand style which were built in the city after the Civil War, typically by wealthier parish communities.
In 1926 Father Ramón Sarabia y Barbero arrived in Barcelona to help strengthen and promote the work of the Redemptorists already working in the city. With his leadership by 1928 the Redemptorist Fathers were able to rent, and later purchase, a building on the Carrer Balmes in the center of the Eixample, the newly expanded downtown grid of Barcelona. It was in this building that the first chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was dedicated.
The Redemptorist center became a home base for the promotion of Catholic social life and evangelization in the city during the leadup to the Spanish Civil War, and served as the chapel for the Cristo Rey (“Christ the King”) society. When the Leftists took over in 1936, the building was sacked and the chapel desecrated. The Redemptorists returned in 1938, but due to the damage inflicted when they were forced out a new building was needed. The result, the work of architect Joaquim Porqueres i Banyeres between 1948 and 1958, with frescoes by Josep Mestres i Cabanes, is a grand, Baroque Revival structure that would look perfectly at home in the Eternal City, and is one of the few exemplars of this type of architecture in Barcelona. Today it is still in the hands of the Redemptorists, and as well as being a parish church serves as a home for the Ukranian Catholic community in Barcelona to worship under the Byzantine Rite.
UPDATE: March 2012
I managed to drop by this church one evening during a recent visit to Barcelona while mass was taking place, and snapped a few additional photographs. It is a truly magnificent space, and photographs really do not do it justice:
Església de la Mare de Déu del Roser
Built: 1923-1924; 1945-1949
Function: Parish church
Address: Gran Via 796
The beautiful little parish church dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, located not far from the Sagrada Familia basilica, is actually a combination of the work of two important Catalan architects, due to the vicissitudes of history. The parish itself was the fruit of the demographic growth of Barcelona as it entered the 20th century, following the explosion of the city’s fortunes during the industrial revolution of the previous century. Originally founded as a mission or dependency of Sant Pere de les Puel.les, the original members met in a small chapel located near that ancient Benedictine monastery in the old city. Hereabouts, there were not only a number of factories and factory workers’ residences – particularly in the textile industry – but also large numbers of immigrants from Spain who were in need of pastoral care.
Attendance grew until by 1920 it became clear that the community would need a larger building, and efforts began to find space and funding for the construction of what would ultimately become the present parish. Following a two-year fundraising campaign, work on the present building commenced in 1923, located on land purchased along the eastward expansion of the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes. The Gran Via, as it is more commonly called, is one of the largest of the boulevards laid out in the Eixample, stretching from the far western to the far eastern ends of Barcelona, and more or less separating the old city from the then-new. The building itself, designed by the prolific architect Enric Sagnier, who built many early 20th century churches in the city, was in a somewhat unusual castellated neo-Gothic style. In his design Sagnier paid partial reference to the exterior of the Chapel of Santa Agata at the old Royal Palace behind Barcelona’s Cathedral, particularly in his handling of the campanile.
The church was officially declared an independent parish by the Archdiocese in 1936, but only a few weeks after the ceremonies marking this event, the Spanish Civil War officially arrived in Barcelona. Leftists burned and desecrated the building, and many of the materials were then hauled away by local officials to use in other, secular building projects; what was left was little more than some of the exterior walls of the building. Following the victory of the Nationalists in 1938, the parish retook possession of the church.
Because of the extent of the damage to the structure, it was decided that, for the sake of economy, a simpler building would replace the Gothic remains of the old church. The parish selected a Renaissance Revival design by architect Isidre Puig i Boada, an important pupil of Antoni Gaudí, though the architect was asked to incorporate, wherever possible, what remained of the old church. This rebuilding took place during the 1940′s, although the redecoration of the interior took longer to complete. After the completion of this work Puig i Boada was made co-director of the works at the Sagrada Familia a few blocks away, a project he had first begun to work on as an architecture student and which he continued to work on after Gaudí’s death. He subsequently became the sole architectural director on the project for many years until his retirement, and completed the building of the basilica’s Passion facade.
Here we see the exterior of the church, in which Puig i Boada managed to integrate parts of what remained from Sagnier’s original structure:
And here we see the interior:
Name: Església de la Mare de Déu de Lourdes
Function: Parish church
Address: Font Honrada 33
The somewhat unusual, small Neo-Baroque church of Our Lady of Lourdes, designed by architect Adrià Casademunt i Vidal, is located in the Poble Sec district of SW Barcelona, close to the mountain of Montjuic. Its history is somewhat clouded. The church was originally dedicated to Santa Madrona, co-patroness of Barcelona along with Santa Eulalia, whose tiny hermitage dedicated to her memory still stands on the mountain which dominates the neighborhood.
With the rapid growth of population in the Poble Sec area during the 19th century from immigration and industrialization, the little church soon proved to be too small to handle the number of parishioners, and so a new-new parish of Santa Madrona had to be built nearby. Casademunt was the architect of that structure, as well as the church of the Guardian Angel or “Angel Custodi” in the same neighborhood. The little church was renamed in honor of Our Lady of Lourdes, devotion to whom had been growing in popularity through the end of the 19th century in Spain.
The building was vandalized by the Leftists during the “Tragic Week” in 1909; restoration was completed by 1916. Things went back to normal for awhile, but when the Civil War came in 1936, some locals turned over the priests of the parish to the Leftist authorities. The church was then burnt, along with two 17th century altarpieces that were the pride of the parish, and the rectory was completely destroyed. The church was then turned into a temporary dormitory for war refugees, though it teetered on the edge of collapse.
In 1948 restoration work began on the fabric of the building, which by this point had seriously deteriorated. This was completed within a year, thanks to tireless efforts of the parishioners and their new pastor, along with architect Manuel Puig Janer, although completion of the interior decoration took another decade.
Here we can see the exterior of the church:
And here we see some views of the interior:
Name: Església de Santa Agnès
Function: Parish church; former monastic chapel
Address: Sant Elíes 21-23
This Neo-Romanesque building began its life as the convent church of the Poor Clares Monastery of Our Lady of Jerusalem, whom we will discuss in a subsequent post as they are still in existence; this particular structure was one of several which housed them over a number of centuries. Construction on the complex in the Sant Gervasi district in the north end of the city, which included not only the church and the convent but also a school, took place between 1884-1901. It was burned by Leftists in 1909, during the “Tragic Week” when many convents and monasteries were attacked. It was subsequently restored but attacked again by the Lefties in 1938, and burned.
After the war the Poor Clares returned, but were separated in different convents around the city until their old convent was made habitable again. In the meantime, the parish of St. Agnes began in 1945 as a mission of the already-extant parish of Our Lady of Peace nearby, to address the needs of the increasing population of the Sant Gervasi district. The parish then began renting space in the church and monastery of Our Lady of Jerusalem, with approval from the Archbishop.
Once they had taken possession of the space, the parish began a program of restoration of the buildings, with a number of pieces of religious art being donated for use in the church by the titled and well-to-do in the area. As the parish continued to grow, it eventually became clear that the old convent space as it stood was too small to minister to the needs of the faithful, and that further renovation and expansion was necessary. This would not be possible in a rented space, so the parish and the Archdiocese began to negotiate with the Poor Clares for the purchase of the property.
This process was apparently quite lengthy and, at times, acrimonious, but eventually an agreement to sell the complex was reached by all parties in 1955. The architect Leopoldo Gil Nebot, a parishioner, was retained to redesign the old convent space, and this was completed in 1958. That same year, it was formally established as an independent parish. However the nuns continued in residence until their new convent higher up in the mountains around the city was completed in 1970.
Here we see the exterior of the church, as it exists today:
And here we see some shots of the interior:
Església de Sant Cugat del Rec
Function: Former parish church; art museum/cultural space
Address: Princesa 21
Saint Cucuphas (Sant Cugat in Catalan) was born into a wealthy family in present-day Tunisia, and became a permanent deacon of the Church. He was sent by the Bishop of Carthage along with his friend and fellow deacon Saint Felix to evangelize the territories around Barcelona in the early 4th century. As a result of the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian, he was arrested and tortured, and eventually executed outside of the city, where the ancient Benedictine monastery dedicated to him still stands.
The parish named for Sant Cugat inside Barcelona itself had several monikers over its nearly 1,000 year history. It was sometimes known as Sant Cugat del Camí, “of the way”, because it stood on the road to the great Benedictine Monastery of Sant Cugat del Vallès, just over the other side of the mountains that ring Barcelona. It was also called Sant Cugat del Forn “of the oven”, in reference to the fact that Sant Cugat was supposedly tortured by being burned in an oven on or near where the church stood. However it was most commonly known as Sant Cugat del Rec, “of the stream”, as the city’s main freshwater aqueduct ran nearby.
The church originally stood on Carrer Carders, from its founding in 1023 by Guislabert, who later became bishop of Barcelona. The building was never very large, though there is a record of its having been remodeled and expanded in 1287. During this period, many of the city’s bakeries were built nearby, and it is possible that because of Sant Cugat’s association with an oven, they supported this chapel.
There is little mention of this structure again until 1626 when the City Council agreed that, because of population growth in the area and the poor state of the building, the old church was too small and needed to be torn down. In 1628, the parish was given relics of Sant Cugat by the monastery dedicated to him, Sant Cugat del Vallès, which were received with a great deal of pomp and ceremony attended by local officials; they were subsequently kept in the sacristy of the new building. The Baroque structure which replaced the old church was further expanded in 1830.
In 1835, the 14th century silver and gold reliquary of Sant Cugat commissioned by the monastery was given into the keeping of the parish by the Benedictine monks of Sant Cugat del Vallès, when they were forced to leave their 1,000 year-old monastery during a state-sponsored land grab. In the meantime many textile factories were built in the neighborhood surrounding the church. Over time, both the parish church and its patron saint came to be associated locally with the textile workers.
In 1908 during the “Tragic Week”, Leftists attacked and burned the building. A new church was then built on the site in 1909, designed by the architect Josep Maria Pericas i Morros, a follower of Gaudí. This building itself was then burned and sacked by the Leftists during the Civil War in 1938, this time on direct orders from Barcelona City Hall. Fortunately, before this was done, the reliquary of Sant Cugat was removed and placed in the Museum of the Generalitat, Catalonia’s provincial government.
After the war, engineers determined that the old building was a total loss. The remains of the church were removed, and the spot where it used to stand paved over; the spot is now a square named the Plaça de Sant Cugat. Subsequently, in 1944 the Archdiocese obtained new premises for the parish when it purchased a building nearby on Carrer Princesa, one of the principal streets of the quarter. Construction of the new church, designed by the architect Josep Maria Ayxelà, was completed in 1950 and the relics of Sant Cugat were returned.
The parish church, which also supported a school of the same name on the premises, was apparently a highly undistinguished structure. In 2002 the Archdiocese closed the school and the parish, and sold the property to the cultural foundation of the Caixa Penedès savings bank. Thus after nearly one thousand years of history, the parish simply ceased to exist.
The building is now being turned into the new home of the Subirachs Foundation. The painter and sculptor Josep Maria Subriachs, now in his 80′s, is probably most famous for the sculptures he designed for the Passion Facade of the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia. The renovated building, known as the “Espai Subirachs”, will house a permanent collection of the artist’s work, as well as galleries for temporary exhibitions, an auditorium, and library.
As for the precious relics of Sant Cugat, these were given into the keeping of the priests at the nearby Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar. The relics are kept in a small chapel in the crypt of the church. They rest in a copy of the Gothic reliquary, as the original is now in the Museum of the Archdiocese.
Unfortunately, this is one of those structures where I cannot find a good image of ANY of the several churches that have stood on this site: not the Romanesque one, nor the Gothic, nor the Baroque, nor the Art Nouveau, nor the post-war. Hopefully I can update this post with such images over time, as the long history of this church is very interesting. That being said, here is is the entrance to the church built between 1944-1950, prior to the sale of the building:
Here we can see a view of the Plaça de Sant Cugat, where the original church used to stand and where Sant Cugat himself was tortured:
And here are two images of the 14th century reliquary of Sant Cugat, which is now in Barcelona’s Diocesan Museum: